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Something Old, Something Blue

Washington retailer runs her business in her own unique way.

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Alana: Antique & Estate Jewelry, Seattle, WA

URL: alanajewelry.com; OWNER: Alana Fornoni; FOUNDED: 1975; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1994; LAST RENOVATED: 2011; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 8 part-time; TOTAL SQUARE FOOTAGE: 430 square feet; TAGLINE: “Jewelry with a Past”;


SOME 10 MILES FROM the center of downtown Seattle, WA, is a typical suburban American mall, average in size, with anchors like Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penney. But if shoppers in Northgate Mall walk into Alana: Antique & Estate Jewelry, they’ll see something surely atypical of stores in most shopping malls: an item with a price tag of $1 million.

What is that seven-figure item? A simple gold necklace — and, in reality, it isn’t for sale. According to the store’s founder/owner, Alana Fornoni, it’s marked $1 million for that very reason: “It’s priceless.” The necklace’s actual dollar value is likely in the low four figures, she admits. Then why so special? “Because it looks exactly like the one worn by the woman in the painting, which has been part of our logo since 1994, when we opened our store here.”

Laura, lead sales associate, remembers the day the previous owner walked in to sell the necklace. “People come in to sell all the time because that’s what we do — we buy and sell antique and estate. Maybe only 10 percent of what we have is new — usually a few mountings. Anyhow, the necklace had one ‘18K Italy’ marking on the back, and the minute Alana saw it, she was ecstatic because it’s identical to the one worn in the painting, ‘Portrait of a Girl,’ by Italian Renaissance artist Piero del Pollaiolo.” The original hangs in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, but at Alana two large reproductions are prominent elements of the décor. And, as it turned out, they were essential to the heirloom jeweler’s 2011 renovation.

Fornoni’s daughter, Heather Jensen, who is the general manager/partner, and has worked in the business since her mother opened in the current destination, notes it was the first time they’d done any remodeling. And because the bread-and-butter of their business is bridal and most customers are young women in their 20s and 30s, the redesign had to be fresh and up-to-date. Cynthia Stiller, who designs all the shop’s displays, convinced Fornoni to infuse bright colors into the showroom’s “subdued and serious” neutral monochromatic tones. “So we started with all the different shades of blue in the painting,” she explains. “Jewelry’s job is to make you happy and color does that. The showcases should be happy, too. Young women today love retro jewelry but, even though you’re selling them estate, they don’t want your store to look old.”

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Achieving a modern mien involved bringing in blue, but it also involved taking out a fur coat cabinet. “That case was the biggest furnishing that changed,” says Jensen. “We’d decided to discontinue selling furs that we’d also carried. So now the whole back wall is an enormous floor-to-ceiling built-in case for jewelry. It’s in warm pecan-colored wood — to match the oval center case we kept — with blue silk-like fabric and new LED lighting inside. The back wall looks like sunlight, and people are constantly saying things like “I’ve never come into your store before, but I had to — it’s just beautiful!”

Switching from cold cathode lights to LED made a huge difference, Fornoni says. “I got the best I could find — all LEDs are not created equal! Lighting isn’t the place to skimp.” However, she kept the chandelier that hangs over the showroom’s center case. “I found it years ago at an antique mall, and I bought it because I wanted people to remember our shop as ‘the store with the chandelier.’”

Nonetheless, for people who don’t regularly visit the store, Fornoni spends about $100,000 annually on advertising. For the last few years, social media, too, has been a key component of promotion. Mara Vostral, social media and marketing consultant, says the company’s Facebook page, begun in 2008, “has been the quickest way to notify customers about sales, special events and new inventory.” When Vostral joined Alana in 2010, she also started a Tumblr blog for the business. “I think that’s given us more national visibility, as our followers include antique jewelers from across the country.”

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Still, many past-era treasures continue to originate from the public. The store schedules three different times a week for people to show and sell Alana their jewelry. “We don’t make appointments,” Fornoni explains, “but, when they come in, we hand out playing cards with numbers on them, so people know when it’s their turn.”

Those cards are important because the store can get crowded, she says. “Part of why I think we’re always busy is because we try to have something for everyone’s budget. We carry expensive rarer pieces, but we might also have a Trifari item for $25. Everyone should be able to own a special piece of jewelry from the past. I felt that way when I started in vintage years ago, searching at garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets, and I feel the same today.”

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Five Cool Things About Alana: Antique & Estate Jewelry

1. CLEARANCE CASES. Alana has five clearance cases, each clearly marked, for example: “$250 or Less” and “Extreme Value 50%-65% of Appraisal.” “With vintage and antique especially,” says Fornoni, “people are prone to asking, ‘Can you do any better?’ One way to circumvent that is by having sections where items are already cheaper.” Special care is taken so that clearance never looks cheap, adds display designer Cynthia Stiller. “We put professionally printed signage in cases, arrange jewelry so it’s color complementary, and keep things uncluttered.”

2. REWARDING REWARDS PROGRAM. Two years ago, the jeweler initiated a customer rewards program. “It’s fairly unusual for a small family-run antique jewelry store to offer rewards, but it’s been very successful,” says Mara Vostral, social media and marketing consultant. The Customer Rewards Card allows people to accumulate up to $1,000 in rewards credit by earning 10 percent from every dollar spent. And during their bi-annual sale events, they offer double rewards for a limited time. Fornoni says, “Half the time, people use their free rewards right away and make a multiple purchase.”

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3. PROPS TO THE PROPS. purses, to antique perfume bottles, to a vintage wedding dress from the ’20s and another from the ’60s, period props help set the tone of the store. “I like having our cases and different corners of the shop showing eye-catching things that take people back to the eras of the jewelry we sell,” says Fornoni. Can customers buy the props? “They can, if they want to. From time to time, I’ve sold things — and made an enormous profit on them!”

4. THE POWER OF PBS. Much of this retailer’s ad budget, for the past three years, has been allotted to underwriting popular television series on Public Broadcasting Service. “In supporting PBS,” says Fornoni, “the intelligent customers we’re looking to reach also see our name and commitment to the arts and community.” Each month, she reviews the nonprofit network’s offerings and chooses to sponsor programs she believes heirloom jewelry customers will be watching — “shows like Downton Abbey, Nova, and biographies I’d watch, if I had the time!”

5. WEBSITE EXCITEMENT. When Alana redesigned its website last May, they added a feature, enabling them to quickly post “Sold!” under an item, once it’s purchased, along with the price paid and date of sale. “It generates a sense of urgency to buy because people realize they may not have the opportunity again,” says Sarah Kilwien, database/website manager. With 90 percent of their pieces one-of-a-kind, it’s particularly important. “Alana’s constantly buying jewelry, so I’m photographing and uploading new arrivals all day long!”

Try This: Start Seasonal Views

“One way to appeal to everyone with your windows is to make them season-specific rather than holiday-specific. And sometimes a subtle seasonal nod can be better than an obvious one. One year, instead of signage saying ‘Back to School,’ I designed our windows with old books and a miniature school desk and stacked jewelry on those.” — Cynthia Stiller, Display Designer

Lorraine DePasque is a contributing writer for INSTORE and INDESIGN. She is also a freelance journalist who has covered the fine jewelry industry for more than two decades. Having seen thousands of collections, met thousands of artisans, schlepped through hundreds of trade shows, judged hundreds of design competitions, and writtten several thousand jewelry articles, she has one simple request: “Please don’t tell me something is innovative when it isn’t.”

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